The Groningen protocol - The Jewish perspective

Benjamin Gesundheit, Avraham Steinberg, Shraga Blazer, Alan Jotkowitz

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Despite significant advances in neonatology, there will always be newborns with serious life-threatening conditions creating most difficult bioethical dilemmas. Active euthanasia for adult patients is one of the most controversial bioethical questions; for severely ill neonates, the issue is even more complex, due to their inability to take part in any decision concerning their future. The Groningen Protocol introduced in 2005 by P.J. Sauer proposes criteria allowing active euthanasia for severely ill, not necessarily terminal, newborns with incurable conditions and poor quality of life in order to spare them unbearable suffering. We discuss the ethical dilemma and ideological foundations of the protocol, the opinions of its defenders and critics, and the dangers involved. The Jewish perspective relating to the subject is presented based on classical Jewish sources, which we trust may enrich modern bioethical debates. In Jewish law, the fetus acquires full legal status only after birth. However, while the lives of terminally ill neonates must in no way be actively destroyed or shortened, there is no obligation to make extraordinary efforts to prolong their lives. Accurate preimplantation or prenatal diagnosis might significantly reduce the incidence of nonviable births, but active killing of infants violates the basic foundations of Jewish law, and opens the 'slippery slope' for uncontrolled abuse. Therefore, we call upon the international medical and bioethical community to reject the Groningen Protocol that permits euthanization and to develop ethical guidelines for the optimal care of severely compromised neonates.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6-10
Number of pages5
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Jun 2009


  • Ethics in neonatology
  • Euthanasia
  • Groningen Protocol
  • Jewish medical ethics
  • Mercy killing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental Biology


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